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September 07, 2004



"If I had not "come to Christ", as it were, my views on abortion would surely be where they were a decade ago."

May I ask why? As an atheist pro-lifer, I am often puzzled (and mildly disturbed) by statements like this.


obeah --

I don't mean to imply that a religious conversion is required for a pro-life stance. Indeed, I am engaging in full disclosure -- as one who advocates changing hearts and minds, I am sharing how my own heart and mind was changed on this issue.

Christian theology has a long history on the issue of when life begins, and it takes too long to recount here -- suffice it to say, the mainstream/orthodox position (informed by science) has become conception.


My question isn't about Christian theology, though; it's about you. I guess I'm wondering why you did not find the secular arguments for the humanity and value of the unborn persuasive (and, from the sound of it, never could have found them persuasive).

I hope this does not sound hostile, as it's not meant that way at all. I just worry that we're fighting a more uphill battle than I realize, if the only way for many people to come to the conclusion that all human beings should be valued and protected is to undergo a religious conversion.

Jonathan Dresner

"But I'm at a loss as to how it is that I can be expected to continue to believe that abortion is murder while still insisting that it remain legal."

A thought, Hugo. It is possible to argue that abortion is indeed killing without believing that abortion is murder. I understand that, as a pacifist, you have a problem with this argument anyway, but there is a long religious and legal tradition of 'justifiable homicide' which balances the inherent humanity and activity of the deceased against the humanity and needs of the killer. This isn't an easy application to abortion, but it is an avenue of argument that does occupy some of the middle ground.



I found the civil rights argument (used by Nat Hentoff) compelling -- but not enough to change my mind. As a pro-feminist,if you will, any violation of a woman's autonomy seemed unthinkable to me; no secular argument was sufficient to undermine it. But that's just me. I don't think that social policy ought to be made on the basis of theology alone, of course; secular arguments against abortion will play a critical role in the struggle for hearts and mind.

Jonathan -- thank you for the nuance between killing and murder. I'm quite happy with permitting abortion to save the mother's life. There, a self-defense argument holds. The only need that trumps a right to life is another's right to life in the very literal sense of physical survival.


"But I'm at a loss as to how it is that I can be expected to continue to believe that abortion is murder while still insisting that it remain legal."

Another thought, and hopefully a complement to Jonathan's, is the case of a father whose child needs a bone marrow transplant. Giving marrow to your child, if you're able, is generally seen as a very serious moral obligation, and it's every bit as much of a life-and-death situation as abortion - should it be legally mandated? What about giving marrow to those whose lives we didn't help to create?

I do think it's possible to argue that one's legal right to make decisions about one's own body should take precedence over another's right to life at your expense, even if those decisions are immoral - the legal system isn't always the best judge of morality. Again, it's not an easy application to abortion. But, since I've given up on drawing a definitive line between "human" and "potentially human" it's a line of thought I'm very interested in. So I thought I'd bring it up ;)


Actually, it is possible to argue for abortion rights without saying that the fetus is "just a clump of cells." I think a second-trimester fetus is much more than a clump of cells, but the woman's body is her own, and she's under no obligation to allow the fetus to use it as a life-support system. I do not agree that the government has the right to protect the right to life at all costs, even if it means trampling over other basic rights.


I just read your "mea culpa" and I appreciate your desire to stay respectful about this--so just understand that my previous post was not intended to start a heated debate again, but rather to summarize a position.


I'm quite happy with permitting abortion to save the mother's life. There, a self-defense argument holds

If a mother and her six-year-old fall out of a boat, and the six-year-old is clinging to the only life jacket, the mother commits murder if she shoves the kid off the life jacket to take it for herself--even though it's the only way to save her own life.

If you truly believe a fetus is a human life, there really is no exception.

Lynn Gazis-Sax

But how could she save her pregnancy and die herself? If there isn't a viable-outside-the-womb baby yet, the baby is going to die anyway, along with the mother. If there is a viable-outside-the-womb baby, presumably the mother would want an early delivery (whether by induction or by C-section) rather than an abortion. Pace really freak unusual occurrences like what happened with Gianna Beretta Molla, the normal case has got to be that either the pregnancy is advanced enough that you can deliver early, or the baby wouldn't survive the mother anyway. Certainly in the life-threatening pregnancies in my own family (tubal pregnancies) there was no hope of a live baby.

Just to be clear, I do realize that mythago is challenging the idea that a fetus can be treated as a full human life, rather than arguing that women with life-threatening pregnancies should die for their children.


In most cases, you're quite right--there's not going to be a situation where the fetus would survive the mother's death. But it's certainly been attempted; recall the case of A.C., the terminally-ill woman forced to undergo a C-section (despite the risk to her) to 'save her baby.'

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